We’ll never have to wonder if one leader can affect culture. Just six days after inauguration, the culture of the White House is different. This is a leadership perspective; I’m not baiting any political debate. Culture change is visible. And you too, the leader in your space, are affecting the culture around you, whether or not you’re paying attention to it. And I’m encouraging you to pay attention.

Culture never sleeps.
Culture never pauses.
Culture always exists, and here’s why.
Actually, first let’s get personal.
You and I have an ego, an aspect of mind that we consider our “self.” If we say someone has “a big ego,” we’re saying that he’s too full of himself. If we say someone has a healthy ego, that means good self-esteem and being comfortable in their skin. Our ego is our identity.
OK, back to your organization: culture is a collective ego.
Culture is to company what ego is to an individual – it’s the sense of identity.
Culture and ego are invisible, but they affect how we walk and talk, what we prioritize and value, and our mood and attitude. Your culture transmits expectations (show up early), and points to acceptable behavior (be respectful of diverse opinions).
Like an ego, culture is the way people interact and relate with each other, the values they use to make decisions, and the actual decisions they make. And here’s the crux of this note: you either cultivate your culture deliberately, or it’s shaped by a random collection of decisions over time. I’m sure you’re well aware of the power of culture, but are you aware of the culture you’re cultivating?
You are deliberate about strategy and company priorities. You are intentional about marketing and sales. And you oversee ops with a hawk’s eye. But are you as purposeful about culture? Many execs relegate this work to HR, and I’m convinced that’s not enough; you need to drive this process, it’s mission critical.
To make this complex subject simple, I’ll say that you promote your culture by what you preach, what you teach, and what you concede. What you preach is your written values and statements. What you teach is your personal behavior, what you recognize, and how you pay and reward. What you concede is every time you turn a blind eye to behavior that contradicts what you preach and teach.
When Bob mocks Sally in a meeting, and you don’t say anything, you’ve just reinforced a culture of bullying. Even if you talk about respect and diversity, you just proved that you value internal competition and disrespect. Ultimately, what you preach and teach is discounted by what you concede. It doesn’t erase it, but it dilutes it.
Whether you’re reading this Spring or Fall, or whatever season, this is the time to get really deliberate about your culture. If you feel called to dial in your culture, I’m down for helping you think through this. Meanwhile, check out this Netflix Culture Deck, it’s famous for all the right reasons, and a great example for perspective.
Here’s to your success and significance!